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Yankee Panky: Spring Flinging

A month into spring training has yielded little in terms of newsworthy occurrences in Yankee camp.

The team announced it would not discuss or negotiate contract extensions for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, or manager Joe Girardi until after the season, which is consistent with recent club policy. Nick Johnson missed time with back stiffness (uh-oh), but then rejoined the lineup (phew!). Indications, per Girardi, are that Johnson will bat second and that speed isn’t important, since Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are hitting behind him. That means Curtis Granderson, who Girardi hinted would be the team’s starting center fielder, will likely bat seventh or eighth, depending on Nick Swisher’s exploits. Granderson in center, coupled with Brett Gardner’s wet-noodle bat, means Randy Winn, um, win(n)s the left field job.

That brings us to the first of three major subsections of this week’s column.


In game threads during last year’s playoffs, I would post how I cringed when Brett Gardner appeared in a game. Since his arrival in spot duty in 2008, he has not proven to be a Major League caliber player. If there’s a place for him on this Yankee roster, it’s in a limited role, but what should that role be?

Michael Kay discussed the Gardner conundrum at length with Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand on Wednesday’s “New York Baseball Tonight” on 1050 ESPN Radio. Feinsand said that the Yankees view Gardner as a more valuable commodity coming off the bench in the late innings as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Kay pointed out how Gardner had no bunt base hits last season, which is a travesty for someone whose game is predicated on speed. You know what else was a travesty? His play in the postseason. Speed is fine, but there has to be intelligence to go with it. Gardner had a 33 percent success rate on steals and was picked off twice when inserted as a pinch-runner. A good base stealer has as much guile as speed. Your job as a pinch runner is to NOT get picked off. Gardner was so antsy that he made it easy for the opposition to read him. He was fortunate to have his teammates pick him up so often. His 0-for-10 performance in the World Series with 4 Ks didn’t inspire confidence, either.

I recall so many Pinstriped Bible columns that Steven Goldman would file on Tony Womack where he would lambaste Joe Torre for putting him in the lineup. “Automatic out” was a common phrase. There’s not much more time for Gardner to prove that he has enough dimension to be the weapon Joe Girardi wants him to be.


Before pitchers and catchers reported, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti — congratulations on your recent engagement, sir — and Ed Coleman interviewed Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland and asked him about the fifth starter spot. Eiland said at the time it would be an open competition between Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Sergio Meat Tray and Chad Gaudin. The first words that came to mind were “yeah, right.” The reins were off Joba, and Hughes, even though he would have an innings limit this year, was in line to see if he could reclaim the spot in the rotation he squandered a year ago. Operating under the , Murti and Coleman asked a hundred different ways to get Eiland to bite on whether there was a favorite, or a preference, and he wouldn’t.

So, a month later, here we are: Joba has posted a Chien-Ming Wang level ERA of 27.05 while allowing 8 hits and 6 walks in 3 2/3 innings. Worse, he’s shrugged it off like he’s making progress. Hughes hasn’t fared much better. While his ERA is significantly lower than Joba’s (3.85), he’s allowing nearly a hit per inning, and two of the four hits he’s allowed have been home runs. Aceves has pitched the best; he hasn’t allowed a base runner in 6 innings pitched.

If it’s an open competition, then Aceves is the runaway leader at this point, and both Eiland and Girardi should acknowledge as much. Their lack of candor has some writers and broadcasters believing that they’ve known all along who they’re selecting as the fifth starter, and this is all a sham. Feinsand insinuated as much when Kay asked him that very question on Wednesday. If the writers feel like they’re being bullshat, than what are we as fans supposed to think?


This section should be qualified by me saying that A-Rod, for all his talent and baseball acumen, does not come off as smart outside the lines. I recall when talking to reporters after the July 1, 2004 game against Boston, in which he moved to shortstop following Jeter’s face-first dive into the stands, he said the amount of ground he had to cover was “like the Miami Ocean.” I immediately looked at him quizzically, as if to say, “Are you effing serious with that quote?” He picked up on my facial contortion as I jotted down that nugget of idiocy, looked at me and gave his trademark smirk.

Is he smirking now? Personally, I don’t care if he was referred to Dr. Tony Galea and flew to Toronto to have the platelet procedure done. And honestly, I don’t care if A-Rod did HGH all of last year while recuperating from the hip surgery. It’s baffling to me, though, that he did this without Brian Cashman or anyone else in the organization finding out. Dr. Galea has said, according to numerous published reports, that he only prescribed anti-inflammatories to A-Rod. Let’s give both the benefit of the doubt and say that’s true. One question could flip this thing completely: Did A-Rod broke team procedure and see Galea without the team’s permission? Who’s covering up? A-Rod stands by his story that he’s OK and that he never took HGH from Galea. Cashman has adamantly stated he had no knowledge of A-Rod’s Canadian spin class. The longer A-Rod waits to talk to federal investigators, the more intense the speculation and conjecture will become.

Maybe this is all immaterial since he hit in the clutch during the playoffs and was integral to the World Series title. Maybe he should get a free pass from us. Or maybe not. If it’s determined A-Rod did break protocol, the Yankees can void his contract.

Now that would be newsworthy.


1 Jon DeRosa   ~  Mar 12, 2010 9:28 am

I went to a bunch of games in late 2008 - and Gardner played in every one. I've never seen a worse hitter in all my life. He could lose the bat on any given swing. I saw him chuck it down the first baseline at least 4 times.

Last year, I didn't think he was any good, but I thought he had improved a little.

He's cheap, he's fast, and if he plays defense the way some say he does, he can help the team. And if he improves a little bit gain at the plate, the Yanks probably did a smart thing giving him a shot.

The question will be how long is that rope? And what is plan B, because the other current options are unispiring.

2 Sliced Bread   ~  Mar 12, 2010 9:29 am

1) Gardner's currently working on his bunting, and baserunning. I agree he's running out of time to prove himself, but I think he's shown enough talent in the field and on the basepaths to still warrant serious consideration for a starting job in the outfield. Austin Jackson, we hardly knew thee.

2) I don't think anybody's being bullshat re: the 5th starter competition. It's far from over. I agree it appears Aceves is the best option at this point, but we're talking very small sample sizes. Girardi also said the other day that the frist two appearances by Hughes and Joba were seen as tune-ups in which they would work on specific things, and that the real competion would begin with their next starts. Maybe he's giving the "kids" mulligans, but I think the Yanks still prefer to have one of them win the job.

3) ARod's "free pass"( for now ) includes a one-week "singles cruise" across the Miami Ocean.

3 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Mar 12, 2010 9:59 am

Gardner has been successful on 87.5 percent of is regular season stolen base attempts in the majors. Yes he was awful in the postseason, but small samples and rust apply (his thumb injury plus Melky holding the center field job limited Gardner to 53 PA and just six steal attempts, all successful, after July 25). Another small sample stat that actually uses a much larger sample: Brett Gardner had a higher EqA than Curtis Granderson last year.

As for the fifth starter competition, like Sliced said, Girardi said it hasn't even started yet, but I do agree that Aceves, Mitre, and Gaudin aren't really in it as anything other than emergency back-up plans.

4 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:01 am

I'm not watching many spring training games and I put little stock into what someone does in the Spring. I did note however, that the one time I saw Gardner at the plate, he took the first two pitches, as is his specialty.

That, more than anything should be what decides if he wins the job. If he continues to be Take Take Brett Gardner, he has no use to this team as a starter.

I have no problem with the fifth starter "competition" being a farce. If Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin wind up as the fifth starter based on what happened in Spring Training, , I will be displeased

5 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:01 am


"Singles cruise" could also be used to describe Gardner's offense ...

6 a.O   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:14 am

"Granderson in center, coupled with Brett Gardner’s wet-noodle bat, means Randy Winn, um, win(n)s the left field job."

Are you saying Winn has already won the job? Or that he will?

Re ARod: If the facts are as they now appear, I would be very disturbed if I'm the Yankees. I would void the contract and not look back.

7 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:19 am

[6] Who would play third base?

8 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:21 am


Where have you gone, Cody Ransom? .... (yeesh)

9 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:28 am

[8] Ugh. You know, its nice to take a moral stand and all, but how many offensive positions should the Yankees be willing to punt this year? As is, one of left or center is going to be a write off, and I in no way trust Nick Johnson to play 100 games. And that's without even getting into the fact that Jeter and Posada are both a year older.

10 The Hawk   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:33 am

I sure wish they could have traded Gardner instead of Cabrera. If, as some claim, they are about equal (I do not subscribe to this notion), then that should have been the move. Phooey.

I don't even care about A Rod anymore. I'm over the limit. I don't even know what the hell he's up to these days.

11 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:33 am


Then again, I think the Sox offense is a tad worse than last year, and the Rays didn't do much to bolster their offense ... and I'd submit that the OF defense will be better.

But yeah ... a LOT will be riding on Granderson's bat ....

12 ny2ca2dc   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:35 am

[10] If they are about the same then Gadner is much more valuable, in that the team has many more years of control (5 vs 2, i think).

13 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:36 am

I'm way past caring. If A-Rod hits .310/35/115+ this year he can sacrifice goats in his spare time for all I care.

14 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:41 am

[13] Seriously. After all the bullshit Alex Rodriguez has brought to this team over the last six years, this is going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back?

15 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:44 am

[11] Don't forget they have a full year of Victor Martinez where Jason Varitek used to be.

[4] A large part of Gardner's value is his ability to get on base. In the minors, he did that quite often by drawing walks. If you want him to stop taking pitches, you're eliminating a significant part of his value.

16 Sliced Bread   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:45 am

[14] who you calling camel? he's a centaur.

17 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 12, 2010 10:53 am

[15] I've said it here before, but I think Gardner's ability to draw walks in the minors had more to do with crappy minor league pitching than any keen batting eye Gardner had. As we learned last year, his approach at the plate is to just swing as rarely as possible (34% of the time) and hope for the best. I suspect that worked for him when he was facing wild minor league pitchers, but it won't work when you face, for example, Cliff Lee and taking the first two pitches puts you in an 0-2 hole.

18 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 12, 2010 11:00 am


I wondered if Gardner was better at battling after 0&2 ... so off to B-R.com

2009 AL - ALL BATTERS - AFTER 0&2 COUNT: .177/.207/.259

Gardner after 0&2 count: .256/.304/.349 (small sample size alert: 46 such PAs in '09)

19 The Hawk   ~  Mar 12, 2010 11:19 am

[12] Oh I forgot all about his value as a money saving resource! Those penny pinching Yankees.

20 RIYank   ~  Mar 12, 2010 11:22 am

[15] Yeah, I was going to say that, about a full year of V-Mart for the Sox.
There's an impression that they've gotten worse at hitting this year, because the team hit so poorly in the post-season, when they did have Martinez, and their line-up is pretty plainly worse now than it was last October. But that's a small sample size illusion. The Sox have a strong line-up and will score lots of runs, probably about as many as last year. My contrarian prediction, though, is the Youkalis will be significantly worse this year than last, so they'll need someone else to add some RBI. If Drew stays healthy, he's the guy... but that's a big "if".

21 a.O   ~  Mar 12, 2010 11:31 am

[18] Thanks for the perspective.

I still don't get it. Is Will saying the battle is over and Gardner is on the bench?

[7] I'd rather have a non-sociopath who hit .220 play third base than this pathological liar. It's a simple difference in values. I would rather root for players with some integrity than nut jobs who happen to be superstars. Don't get me wrong, winning is very important, but it is not, as Lombardi put it, the *only* thing. I suppose if it happened tomorrow, I'd move Jeter to third for the rest of Spring Training (as a tryout for a full-time move) and put Pena at short.

22 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 12, 2010 11:41 am


and how much (hgh) does Papi have left in the tank ... ?

23 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 12, 2010 11:46 am

[18] And if you expand the scope to include 2008, its .214/.247/.271. Being slightly better than some, but still terrible in a certain situation, is not cause to continue that path, especially, if, as RAB suggests, http://tinyurl.com/yjpx8n7, pitchers start to catch on to your "strategy."

[21] If you want to weed out all the lunatics egomaniacs and nut jobs from baseball you're going to wind up with some pretty crappy teams. And if someone is in charge of running a baseball team, winning damn sure better be the only thing.

24 RIYank   ~  Mar 12, 2010 11:52 am

[22] Right, but Papi was dreadful at the beginning of last year, so I figure that's about break-even.

And by the way, I think Vazquez is a much bigger lynchpin for the Yankees than Gardner is (or Granderson). If Scrabble Score pitches well, the Yanks are the best team in baseball. If he stinks, we have a one-of-several situation. The outfield Gs are much less significant...

25 a.O   ~  Mar 12, 2010 11:56 am

[23] Yep, that's why they looked the other way on steroids for so long. Again, just a difference in basic moral values.

26 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 12, 2010 12:08 pm

@a.O ... I'm not saying the Gardner/Winn battle is over. I'm saying as it currently stands, unless Gardner improves (see the Gardy Har Har section), then Winn is in left and Granderson is in center. Girardi said recently that he's leaning toward Granderson as the Opening Day starter in Center, not left, and that after another crap showing offensively, talk in the organization -- according to published and broadcast reports -- is that Gardner is more valuable to the Yankees on the bench.

All those things considered, it looks like your starting outfield, 7-8-9, is Winn, Granderson, and Swisher.

27 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 12, 2010 12:13 pm

[4] I don't have a problem with it, either. I don't think any of us here, do. The problem is that Eiland and Girardi are saying it's a competition when it's really a toss-up between Hughes and Joba, which we pretty much knew all along. Why string us along?

[3] Cliff, your points are well-taken, but sample sizes aside, do you agree or disagree with my position on Gardner? Regardless of his role, does his presence make the Yankees a better team? I don't know. Does his skill set merit regular or semi-regular play? I don't believe so. That's the point I was trying to make.

28 The Hawk   ~  Mar 12, 2010 12:20 pm

[23] Part of A Rod's infamy though is that he's managed to distinguish himself in a league full of talented lunatics egomaniacs and nut jobs . He's a cut above. Certainly anyone with the ability to physically exhaust fans like me with his neverending shenanigans deserves some kind of special designation. That's why he's the centaur.

29 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 12, 2010 12:22 pm

[27] Gives some people a reason to care about Spring Training. Its horribly boring, tedious and way too long to begin with. If they admit that its largely pointless as well, what reason is there to even bother coming to the park?

It also throws a bone to the people that have no chance of winning. I can't imagine the Yankees seriously want to go much further with Sergio Mitre, so if you let him show his stuff as a starter, maybe someone will bite.

30 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Mar 12, 2010 1:02 pm

[27] If Randy Winn is the alternative, I want to give Gardner another opportunity, but I don't see him as a long-term solution to anything.

31 a.O   ~  Mar 12, 2010 1:06 pm

[26] Hey, thanks man.

32 Eddie Lee Whitson KO   ~  Mar 12, 2010 1:14 pm

Melky got his chance and while many have fond memories of timely hits and youthful exuberance, the most value the yanks got out of him was shipping him to Atlanta.

Gardner has not gotten anything near the same chance so far (thumb), and rather expect some serious outfield platooning this season, which bothers me b/c it gives girardi another tinkering obsession. I'd rather see gardy get his fair go and if he craps the bed, so be it. Until then he has the right to claim the baseball equivalent of diplomatic immunity - small sample size.

33 a.O   ~  Mar 12, 2010 1:16 pm

Will, have you seen this piece today in the Times? Seems to imply the opposite conclusion of you re Gardner. Not saying it's right, but that's my reading of it, mostly based on the title.


34 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 12, 2010 1:30 pm

[33] That headline is misleading, especially since there's not one quote from Girardi. It's a good feature, but I still read it as, "this is one of the only ways Brett Gardner can prove his value to the team."

35 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 12, 2010 1:31 pm

[34] My bad ... There is one quote from Girardi.

36 a.O   ~  Mar 12, 2010 1:47 pm

Yes, there is a quote from Girardi, but I agree that the headline is a little misleading. It is perhaps accurate to say that, because Gardner is working hard to improve his bunting at the request of Girardi, he is in his "good graces." But to the extent it implies that "good graces" = starting job, that may or may not be true. And that's where this article comes in...

I'm guessing Gardner will get a shot to play regularly, but not all the time. And his relative success or failure will dictate how much Winn starts throughout the season.

37 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Mar 12, 2010 2:32 pm

For what it's worth, entering camp, Girardi said that he felt Gardner was their best defensive center fielder, but Brett needed to prove to him he was an everyday player in order to be the center fielder.

38 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 12, 2010 2:41 pm

[37] Brett Gardner is a faster version of Bubba Crosby. Do you see any parallels, Cliff?

39 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 12, 2010 2:50 pm

[38] to be fair, Bubba's best season was '05 where he hit .276/.304/.327 over 76 games (his career high). Last year Gardner put up a .270/.345/.379 line over 108 games.

Bubba also topped out at 4 steals, although I think that was more Torre misusing him than anything else.

40 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 12, 2010 2:55 pm

and damn, I remember Bubba being an awful hitter but jeez...thats just putrid.

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